The 1940’s were a time of great troubles and huge scientific advancements. World War II had just begun, and it was a force of advancement, pushing countries to develop better technology. Many of the scientific advancements were applicable to World War II. One such advancement was the discovery of nuclear energy, a new energy source, but this also led to the atomic bomb. Having that scientific advancement was helpful at the time. In 1941, the Japanese dragged the U.S. into the war in their attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1945, the war was costly and tiring. By the end of WWII, there would be between 60,000,000 and 85,000,000 total deaths. The United States wanted a way to end the conflict. Previous attacks had not deterred the Japanese from fighting, so the Americans used the shocking power and destruction of “Little Boy” and Fat Man” (the two atomic bombs) to end the war and prevent a massive invasion of Japan. The Atomic bombing of Hiroshima was necessary to end the war, however, it had consequences that could have been far deadlier than World War II.
The United States was using a fire bombing program before the Atom Bomb was dropped, but the fire bombing campaign had little to no effect on forcing the Japanese to surrender, thus requiring a dramatic display of firepower to convince the Japanese of their defeat. On March 10th, over 300 B-29 “Superfortresses” attacked Tokyo, using incendiary bombs, and destroyed 16 square miles (History Learning Site). It is estimated that 100,000 were killed, and another 100,000 were injured. Firebombing continued to cause huge damage to major cities of Japan, destroying large amounts of land, burning the factories feeding Japan’s army, and slowing production for the war. Over the next week and a half, “the Americans had dropped nearly 9,500 tons of incendiaries on Japanese cities and destroyed 29 square miles of important industrial land” (History Learning Site). However, the Japanese did not respond to the fire bombing, and refused to surrender (Dietrich). In order to win the war, the Americans needed to do something to shock and horrify the Japanese people, so they would lose the desire to fight.
The Atomic Bomb was partially deployed to draw a reaction that would shock the whole world, and force the Japanese into submission. America wanted to avoid as many casualties as possible. Japan had lost large amounts of territory and suffered high casualties, but showed no sign of surrendering, so it was necessary to use a highly destructive bomb. One Atomic Bomb caused 5 square miles of damage, ( History.com Staff) a sixth of the total damage caused by 9,500 tons of incendiary bombs. (History Learning Site) The unbelievable destructive power of the bomb did provoke the surrender, but it also started a nuclear arms race.
One of the consequences of dropping the atomic bomb was that it started the Cold War. After seeing the power of the atomic bombs, other countries started to develop an atomic arsenal as quickly as possible. America did not trust the other countries developing Atom bombs. The Nazis had been working on a bomb, and the Russians were also developing Nuclear weapons. The risk of other countries developing atomic weaponry before the United States and using those bombs on America was a risk that the government would not take. It was a necessary political move to show dominance. Also, while the bomb was horribly deadly, the United States needed atomic capabilities to defend itself, which prompted scientists to give approval and to work on the project; “The probability that the Germans might work on that very problem with good chance of success prompted me to take that step” (Einstien). A scientist who worked on the Manhattan project, Dr. Leo Szilard, foresaw an arms race, and said, “I had no doubt that we would start an atomic-arms race if we used the bomb.” This arms race developed into the Cold War. The Cold War had the capability of being the most destructive war ever, with countries that were able and willing to deploy nuclear missiles at the slightest provocation. Luckily, nuclear crisis was avoided several times. Had it not, the world would be a different place.
Critics of the atomic bombing say that there were other ways the Americans could have ended the war. They could have just exploded the atomic bomb in a demonstration. (Dietrich) The United States could have blown up the bomb over a beach, or a bay. This would have let the Japanese see their nuclear capabilities, without killing thousands. The Japanese would not need to suffer, like Ms. Sasaki, who broke her leg when falling objects from the bomb blast hit her. She was left to die, and was eventually rescued and taken to several overwhelmed hospitals. However, this plan could go wrong. If the Nuclear bomb failed to activate, it would only reassure the Japanese, and further set them in their course to fight to the bitter end. It would also result in providing the Japanese with their own nuclear bomb, which they could re-arm and use against the United States. Future generations would not understand the devastating power of the bomb, and how fatal the bomb was. Without this understanding, our inhibitions of using the bomb would be lowered, possibly making it more likely to start a nuclear war.
Overall, the bomb saved Japanese and American lives. Without a Japanese surrender, Americans would have been forced to commit to a huge amphibious landing, like Normandy. Casualty estimates of American soldiers alone were over a million, with even higher Japanese estimates. ( History.com Staff) The atomic bomb killed an estimated 140,000 people in Hiroshima. Had the atomic bombing not taken place, well over 2 million people would have died. This is a huge difference of death rates. Some people criticize America for killing tens of thousands of civilians in the bomb explosion. On the contrary, Japan was in total war. It committed all of its resources to the war effort. Therefore, its citizens were all involved in the war, whether they liked it or not. This involvement makes the Japanese citizens lose some innocence. John Hersey mentions this conflict of morality. “In total war, as carried on in Japan, there was no difference between civilians and soldiers, and the bomb was an effective force to end the bloodshed.” (Hiroshima, 89-90)
The bombing of Hiroshima was a difficult, but necessary decision. War could not be continued, as it was only becoming more and more ugly. Without the bombing, Japan and America would have had well over 2 million casualties due to an American invasion. However, America started a nuclear arms race, and this had the potential to be far deadlier than that invasion. The Americans made the right decision in dropping the bomb. The Japanese were not going to surrender from a conventional show of force. Rather, the atomic bomb showed them something so far out of their expectations, they submitted. Despite the risks of the Cold War, that could not be understood at that time, and can not be used to disqualify the bombing.
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. .
Einstien, Albert. "On My Participation In the Atom Bomb Project." Kaizo 20 September 1952.